There’s nothing like a birthday for some introspection.
I’ve spent the past three years studying claims for the potential of social media to disrupt systems of power in bounded communities – hyperlocal, for lack of a better word. Soon, it’s time to submit my thesis and wait to engage and defend my work within the peer review system of academia. It’s still a very 20th century framework, in need of reform and disruption in equal measures. Eventually, academia as we know it will have no choice other than to adjust to the technological and socio-economic realities we live in or risk a slow death, as the playground for the privileged. Already, some of our children will not afford to pay the fees being charged by many Western universities – particularly if the promised land of a career and job continues to look as murky as it does right now; and we all keep doing our lifelong learning on the web. And yet, the rigour of a PhD remains, in a skewed way, empowering – if for nothing else, for the privilege of reading some seminal literature and challenging your own long-standing views. It is certainly a humbling experience.
If I started my PhD believing in some mild form of technological determinism, I am now so much more circumspect of the motives of many of the forces that keep driving the web – and particularly of those who keep monitoring the web for private gain and political power. In 2012, the work of Morozov, Curran & Fenton and Dean resonates more than the old, enthusiastic, trusted Shirky and Jenkins. Online, we seem to be in this reflexive micro-bubble – the watchers-watched; entertaining-entertained; seemingly free but always for profit for someone with every click, like, browse, hyperlink.
The two videos below are a snapshot of where we are, and where we could be going. One is a testament to the power of networks and their creativity; the other is grounded in the surveillance politics of the new capitalism for which we have no alternative. Both are compelling to watch, and mull over.